This is Kanunu's eighth blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, in which she talks about the midnight performance held recently and Original Pronunciation.
Transcript of Podcast
It's been a busy week. Last Saturday we had our midnight performance and we’ve just done our first performance in ‘Original Pronunciation’. The midnight performance started at 12.00 and we came off at about three in the morning! It was quite astounding to be at the Globe in the middle of the night, with one thousand six hundred people… the energy was different, probably because it seemed such a special thing to do. I got giggly during the warm-up; playing badminton in the yard at that time was very bizarre! When I stepped out into a theatre that was absolutely full, the fact that everyone had come to watch a story at midnight made me feel that we were doing something secret and anything could happen. I think the fact that the play was Romeo and Juliet made it extra-special, because so much of the play involves secrets and meetings that break the rules. The whole basis of the story is that two people get together when they shouldn’t have done. Having an audience there at midnight heightened that sense of something dangerous and illicit in the play.
There are so many different images and references in Romeo and Juliet that I think you could stage it anywhere at any time of day and lines would jump out at you. I found myself noticing all the different references to night and day, especially in Act three:
‘Tis very late, she’ll not come down tonight.
I promise you, but for your company,
I would have been abed an hour ago.
Afore me, it is so very late that we
May call it early by and by. Good night.
Is she not down so late, or up so early?
I suppose the same would be true of any play – the context emphasises specific aspects – but this was especially so for Romeo and Juliet, from my point of view at least. The scenes when my parents organise the wedding with Paris are set in the middle of the night/ early in the morning. Of course, at the beginning of Act three, scene five, Romeo and I are talking about whether it is late at night or early in the morning – is it the nightingale or the lark? Even in ‘Gallop apace’ [III.1], Juliet asks ‘Come, gentle night. Come, loving, black-browed night’ and the lines just had a different quality to them. When I got to ‘runaways’ in that speech, I looked around at the audience and I thought they seemed even more likely to be runaways at this time of night. What are you all doing here at midnight?! It was a lot of fun, and afterwards we had a very early champagne breakfast which was nice.
This has been fascinating. I think I mentioned last time that David [Crystal, Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor] used rhyme and rhythm and contemporary accounts to work out how might early modern English might have sounded. He also figured out which words would have been stressed in the iambic meter: he thinks stressed vowels might have been longer, so ‘me’ would become ‘meh’ and ‘be’ would become ‘beh’ whilst the unstressed vowels would have been very short. I enjoyed working with the phonetic script too, because it forced you to pay attention to where the stresses were without getting tied in knots about iambic pentameter or anything like that. It was great to concentrate on the way these words might have been spoken, and find that the rhythm seemed to fit.
Lots of lines seemed clearer. For instance, in Act two, scene four (when I’m saying to the Nurse, ‘Tell me, tell me, tell me what he said!’), the words ‘me’, ‘my’, ‘you’ and ‘he’ are repeated so often that sometimes I found myself labouring over them. I was trying too hard to make every sound clear, which was slowed me down at a point when Juliet is nearly falling over herself to know what Romeo has said to the Nurse. It was much easier to elide or shorten sounds as you do when you’re having a normal conversation.
Response to OP
I found the accent a very useful way to get into the language of the play, because it helped me think about iambic pentameter without lots of theory. If I’m honest, iambic pentameter sometimes seems like an obstacle that gets in the way when I’m trying to be ‘real’ – I like thinking about what a character wants to say, not ‘Where's the fifth stress?’ If I’m thinking about a pattern of stresses, I don’t feel like I’m talking as a normal human being would talk. I do believe the theory that Shakespeare used this meter because it was closer to the natural patterns of human speech… it's just that when I think too much about the theory, I lose sight of the fact that he wrote it in this way to make things easier for the people to sound real when they spoke his lines. The OP accent gave me a kind of fresh approach; if you’re in a rush to say something, it's ok to pay less attention to some words. Also, though I want to sound like a normal human being, I’ve discovered that it is fun to play with words. Perhaps we iron that out in everyday life. When I came to words like ‘opposition’ and had to say ‘oppo-zi-shee-on’, I just thought about the reasons why Juliet might pronounce it in that way. They would have had old-fashioned and new-fangled ways of pronouncing words… maybe Juliet chooses a certain pronunciation because she's speaking to her father or trying to be very proper or because she's lying badly. I’m not sure… basically I enjoyed the freedom of a new way into the text.
I think the audience responded in a very positive way. Our audiences have been very good throughout the run, but they were particularly appreciative after the OP performance. Callum [Coates, Paris] mentioned that there was a better connection with the younger groups in the audience too – perhaps that's because, like me, they found another way into the language of the play. Our running time was slightly shorter. David mentioned the lines might speed up and I think they did. On one hand we wanted to go faster and faster, but on the other hand we were trying to get it right! If we had rehearsed in OP from the beginning, I’m sure we would have been much more confident about increasing the pace. I would definitely like to do more work on OP. We’ve actually got two more performances in OP then rehearsals for performances at Hampton Court Palace will begin…
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.